I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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I’m a very very bad person. Why? Because I procrastinate. I put things off, leave them to the last minute, or simply never finish them. To beat these lazy habits, I’m reluctantly reading Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit. I still haven’t finished it after three months, but I have hope. (I have 40 pages left.)

According to Neil Fiore and 30 years of research, procrastination isn’t the result of laziness. Rather, procrastination is a symptom, a way of coping with deep psychological self-criticism and fear. It’s because we’re taught to believe that working is good and playing is bad. To reverse this unhealthy model, Neil proposes a tool: the Unschedule.

The Unschedule looks like a normal schedule, but with a twist. Instead of scheduling work you have to do, you fill in everything you want to do.

Here’s what my Unschedule looks like next week:

Unschedule

After visualizing my day, I was amazed to see I don’t have time to work for more than two hours without a good break. Already, work doesn’t seem so bad.

Here’s a summary, based on Neil’s instructions, on how to make and use your own Unschedule:

  1. Schedule only non-work activities
    This includes:

    • Previously committed time such as meals, sleep, meetings
    • Free time, recreation, leisure reading
    • Socializing, lunches, and dinners with friends
    • Health activities like going to the gym
    • Routine events such as commuting, classes, appointments

    Do not schedule work on projects. The goal of the Unschedule is guarantee your guilt-free play and legitimize your personal time.

  2. Fill in your Unschedule with work on projects only after you’ve completed at least one-half hour of uninterrupted work
    Think of the Unschedule as a time clock that you punch in as you start work and punch out when you take credit for your progress

  3. Take credit only for periods of work that represent at least thirty minutes of uninterrupted work.
    Do not record the time on your Unschedule if you stop before thirty minutes are up. Unschedule represents quality work, not trips to get potato chips or to make calls.

  4. Reward yourself with a fun activity after each period of work
    You deserve it.

  5. Track of the number of quality hours worked each day and each week.
    Emphasize what you did accomplish and adjust your Unschedule for days you need to start earlier on high-priority projects.

  6. Schedule at least one full day for fun and small chores.
    Avoid resentment and burnout by giving yourself a mini-vacation each week.

  7. Before doing something fun, do thirty minutes of work on your projects
    Again, guilt-free play is a reward and incentive for quality work.

  8. Focus on starting and the next action
    Replace all thoughts about finishing with thoughts about when, where, and on what you can start.

  9. Think small
    Do not aim to finish a book, write letters, complete your income tax, or to work continuously for even four hours. Aim for thirty minutes of quality, focused work.

  10. Keep starting
    Forget about finishing. If you must worry, worry about starting. In order to finish, all you have to do is just keep starting!

  11. Never end “down”
    Never take a break when you’re stuck or ready to give up. Always stay with a tough spot for another five or ten minutes, trying to come up with a partial solution that you can pursue later.

For more ways to overcome procrastination, I definitely recommend checking out The Now Habit. Be warned, the cover is horrendous. It looks like any typical self-help paperback you’d find in a mega-bookstore. You know, the kind with wretched typography, garish colors, and flimsy paper. You’ll be embarrassed to buy it in-person and even more ashamed to read it on the bus. But despite its homely cover, at least I’ve learned I’m not such a bad person after all.

Have you tried Unscheduling your life? Is it working? Let everyone know in the comments!

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14 Comments

  • Lindsey

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    7:53 am

    Wow . . . thanks!

    This post comes at a perfect time for me. I’ve been feeling guilty when I’m not working, looking for ways to avoid burnout and trying to prevent procrastination while actually getting something done.

    As always I find your posts very insightful.

  • Matthew

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    8:30 am

    At the risk of getting totally nerded out – how does this fit in with GTD for you? (I notice you recommend the book in the right column.) I like the look of your calendar, and it reminds me of using one of those awesome tricks we use to help get things done; but it also seems to wed you pretty tight to your calendar, even if the calendar item you are wedded to is as non-scary as ‘watching TV’.

    Regardless, great tips, and as always, great blog.

    Cheers.

  • Eric

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    10:42 am

    Man, I just can’t hang with the recommendation to do things in 30-minute increments. As a writer, I’m just getting going at the 30-minute mark. This is probably better suited for people whose task list is filled with activities that are necessarily short in duration. I do like the idea of legitimizing one’s fun time, though, and I could do with more of that.

  • Paul

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    12:11 pm

    @Eric: I think you’re misreading it — if you’re just getting started at the 30-minute mark, keep barreling through and when you’re done, log the whole chunk of time. Just don’t put things down on the Unscheduler that represent LESS than 30 minutes of continuous work.

    That, and when you feel you’ve spent yourself and need a pick-up, take a short break to do something good for yourself (with me and writing, it’s usually one or two quick songs on Guitar Hero) and then get back to working for at least another 30 minutes.

    Then, when it’s time to have fun, during the time that you already scheduled, you can do so without feeling like you should have been doing something better with your time — because hey, you will have been writing all day with occasional breaks to jam out to “Free Bird”.

  • Eric

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    2:07 pm

    Ah, I guess I did misread it or got it confused with something I read in the post that brought me here in the first place. I agree that scheduling anything shorter than 30 minutes is a mistake. I didn’t realize anyone recommended doing that. Scheduling 10-15 minute processes make no sense.

    Anyway, I definitely need to get better about scheduling my “fun” time and sticking to it, because it often intrudes upon work time, unsurprisingly when I’m most in need of focusing on a big task.

  • Bunk

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    2:17 pm

    #4 Is so valuable. Rewarding yourself for a nice effort of work over a duration of months begins to become habit when done properly. You will find yourself accepting of “reward time” for every job well done, which will only cause you to elevate your work performance.

    Great post!

  • Chanpory

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    4:13 pm

    @Matthew, I haven’t quite how figured out how to integrate this into a GTD system, but I agree there’s a potential to become married to calendar. You could end up spending more time working on the calendar than actually doing work (a form of procrastination in itself).

    Whats important about the Unschedule calendar is being able to visualize your entire day and to realize that your work day can be broken up into manageable chunkcs. More important, it helps you to legitimize your leisure time. Playing is good!.

    Merlin from 43 Folders has some reservations about the Unschedule:

    http://www.43folders.com/2007/10/04/procrastination-unschedule

    If you do use the Unschedule, he suggests just doing it for one day, “just to get back on track.”

  • Matthew

    gravatarOct 4, 2007
    7:32 pm

    Chanpory, yes, I saw Merlin’s post after I read yours; and I get how spending more time organizing than doing can be negative, but the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I kind of love the idea of super-organizing one’s leisure time. It’s so humanist and lovely to think that someone could call me up and say, “hey, can we have a meeting at this time about such and such” and I could legitimately check my calendar and reply, “That’s actually not going to work for me, I’m going to be staring blankly at my book shelf and drinking some wine right about then.”

    As you say: Legitimizing play is good. ;-)

  • Steve

    gravatarOct 9, 2007
    6:22 pm

    I got this book from my brother. We’ve found it to be really helpful, it’s basically reverse psychology. The only thing you schedule is time OFF. I find that simply knowing that at X time I’ll be at the gym, or going to the park, or doing something relaxing, it helps me value the time that I DO have to focus on something.

    It’s just a technique, and it seems to work, without going too much into ‘feelings’ or psychoanalysis (and I’m not against psychoanalysis at all). The Unschedule is focused on taking actions to change perceptions of work. I can’t recommend it enough.

  • Dinu

    gravatarOct 13, 2007
    5:15 am

    When I saw the title I thought this was another ideological zen type of post. But reading through, it’s actually quite a refreshing view of the typical work week. I have the same problem of procrastination, so I’m going to try the un-schedule as well.

  • Matthew Cornell

    gravatarOct 22, 2007
    1:20 pm

    Thanks for the summary! I’ve got to read it…

  • Abdul Rahman

    gravatarOct 25, 2007
    4:13 pm

    So Chanpory, have you finished reading The Now Habit? ;)

  • latesleeper

    gravatarOct 26, 2007
    3:07 am

    Dude… you sleep at 10pm? wuss..

  • AgentSully

    gravatarOct 30, 2007
    1:55 pm

    MMMmmmm! Love this! Glad to read it! Thanks!